Tag Archives: foreshadowing

What’s in a Scene? Part 1.

When readers open a book, they expect to be enthralled by our writing. They want to become absorbed by the scenes, so that they find themselves in the middle of the fictional world you’ve created. However, sometimes writers miss the mark and readers are left standing on the outside, looking in.

If you’ve ever gotten feedback that sounds something like this, “Nothing really happened in this chapter,” or, “I felt like I could put the book down at this point,” or, “There’s something off here, but I can’t put my finger on it,” or, sometimes, “I don’t remember what happened in the scene I just read,” then you’ve missed the mark and readers aren’t getting sucked in.

How do we, as writers, go about remedying this?

We need to make sure each scene has a reason to be there. If there’s no point to the scene, or the chapter, then it can be cut. (I know that’s a bit harsh sounding. We dedicate so much time to writing each scene that it can be a challenge to discard some of them, but doing so can make your novel better.)

The best scenes are those that impact readers and characters in diverse ways.

Here are some ways to create good scenes:

  1. Throw in a twist…as long as it makes sense. No random loopholes, please.
  2. Have a hope or a goal revealed, faced, challenged, turn into a failure, etc. This applies to fears as well.
  3. Increase the anticipation and/or up the stakes.
  4. Foreshadow. This is a great way to keep readers interested, just don’t go overboard. Too much foreshadowing can overwhelm readers or make them roll their eyes because the answers to the story’s main questions become obvious before they’re meant to.
  5. Incorporate events that move the story along. Have a big battle looming in the near future? What kind of things do you have to do to prepare for that battle? What obstacles do you face?
  6. Answer a few of the story’s questions…or raise a few more questions. You can always do both. By answering one question, three more may be brought to light. And those three may be tougher to answer than the original question.
  7. Bring in new, important information about the story or characters. However, if you’re going to do this make sure this information comes about in a natural way. The new information should feel organic to the story.
  8. Look at your characters. How do your characters change throughout the scene? Are these changes physical, emotional, both? How do the events within the story alter the characters’ perceptions of themselves and the world around them? At what moment(s) do these changes occur?

Creating good scenes is more than just having a goal dashed or learning to swordfight or getting your first kiss, it’s about flow. Without a natural flow, scenes can feel stilted and artificial.

Have you ever read a book where you just can’t put it down? You put off doing other things, or you forget about them altogether because you’re absorbed with the novel you’re reading?

If the answer’s yes, then that novel flowed well. The transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and chapters were so smooth you didn’t notice them. (When transitions aren’t smooth, readers get pulled out of the story because they stumble over those transitions. They lose their focus and have to find it again in order to get back into the story.)

In a way, scenes are a balancing act. You have to focus on various elements to pull off an engaging scene. If one of those elements is lacking, readers will feel something is wrong, even if they can’t tell you what they feel is off about that scene.

Next week, I’ll post about how to create smooth transitions.

What things do you do to create enticing scenes?

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Narrative Structure: Diving Off the Deep End

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “narrative structure?”

For some of you, you probably equate it with a novel’s plot. I tend to like separating out the plot and narrative structure. With plot, you have the main events of a story. Point A leads to point B. Point B leads to point C…you get the idea.

But with narrative structure, you shake up the chronological points of a story. You manipulate the sequence of events to create a better novel.

Why do this?

Because not all events within a story are equal.

Some parts of your story will be critical, pieces that define your characters or that raise the stakes up to an almost unbearable amount of tension. Other scenes will still be important, but they won’t have the same emotional punch that the key scenes will.

Say you have a scene where a car explodes in the middle of a highway, and your protagonist is only three cars away from the explosion. What are you going to focus on? You might give a brief bit of information before the explosion, like your protagonist fiddling with the stereo (better yet, your protagonist just had a horrendous argument with her fiancé and she went driving to cool off), but your focus will be the moment of the explosion (or rather, the moment the protagonist is first effected) and the moments directly after the explosion – the chaos, the effect this event has on your character, your character realizing what happened, the thoughts she has, the decisions/actions she makes, etc.

In it’s essence, narrative structure controls time.

It foreshadows, deals with exposition, flashbacks, and shuffling the novel’s chronology around.

Foreshadowing: warning or indicating future events. Foreshadowing gives glimpses of what’s to come by providing hints. For instance, in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms the line, “The leaves fell early that year,” foreshadows an early death.

Foreshadowing is important in fiction because (1) it fosters tension and reader anticipation and (2) everything in fiction happens for a reason.

Exposition: introduces background information (the backstory). Exposition doesn’t advance the plot in the same way action does, but its role is vital. Without exposition it would seem like characters were born on the first page of a novel.

Writers rely on exposition to connect readers to their characters and their story. The essence of a novel lies not only in what will happen, but in what has happened before the novel began.

Flashbacks: a scene in a novel set in the past. Flashbacks accompany backstory and exposition. But while exposition is best given to readers in small pieces, flashbacks are for the moments in your character’s past where a few lines won’t be enough.

Flashbacks are dramatic. They’re the Broadway lights screaming at readers to pay attention because this past event had a monumental effect on the present state of the character or story.

Manipulation of Plot Chronology: Instead of having a novel’s events ordered from A to E, you can mix them up. Have E come first, or have B first. Playing with a novel’s chronological order can create a more interesting story. It can sometimes reveal more of a story. That being said, you don’t want to mess with chronology if you don’t have a deliberate reason for doing so.

Have fun with a novel’s narrative structure. Play around with it. You won’t know your novel’s full potential until you do.

How do you change up your novel’s structure?

And the Morning Sky was Red: The Art of Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing increases dramatic tension within a novel. It builds anticipation, adds suspense, and drops hints to readers. With small details we can indicate that things could go wrong. Sometimes those things do. Sometimes not. The point of foreshadowing is to help keep readers interested.

There are a few things to be aware of when foreshadowing:

  • Don’t be overly obvious. Heighten expectations, but keep readers guessing. You can also mislead readers (as long as it’s justified) by making them believe that one thing will happen, when something else actually occurs. For instance, instead of person A shooting person B, person A shoots himself.
  • Don’t break your promises to readers. When you foreshadow that something big is going to happen, you can’t back out. For example, if you lead readers to believe that a major character will escape death, readers will be disappointed, and probably mad, if you kill off that character.

There are many ways to foreshadow effectively. Here’s a list of some of the ways:

  • Name a coming event. Not the most subtle technique, but by naming an event and indicating why it’s going to be problematic, readers will anticipate the upcoming event, and will want to see how it’ll play out.
  • Use symbolism. Something as simple as “the leaves fell early that year” (A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway) implies something is going to happen. Having a group of kids playing “Ring Around the Rosie” could be another sign. What’s great about symbolism is it can be very subtle. The character(s) may not pick up on the foreshadowing, but readers will.
  • Prophecies. In real life, a lot of people don’t believe in crystal balls, horoscopes, and the like. But in novels, nothing is meaningless. If something is included in a book, it’s important.
  • Apprehension. Describing someone as sweaty or tense, or with shaking limbs, or having an uneasy look all indicate to readers that a big event is about to occur. Seeing that the characters are apprehensive, will make readers apprehensive.

Foreshadowing allows us to guide readers’ expectations. It helps us to prepare them for what’s to come. Heavy foreshadowing is used for the biggest events within the novel. This type of foreshadowing starts early on in the book and continues throughout, until the major event. Light foreshadowing is used for smaller events, and can be used to “poke” readers, reminding them that the big event you foreshadowed in the first chapters is finally about to happen.

Just remember not to go overboard with foreshadowing. Let the reader do the work. (Readers are usually very good at interpreting information and reading between the lines. They’ll get bored if you point out every little thing to them.)

What do you think of foreshadowing?